Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Last Words of Hebrews

The last four chapters of Hebrews is often the most read chapters of the letter. It is the most practical. The first section of the book is a "sermon" on the book of Leviticus, on the superiority of Jesus Christ as a priest. It is helpful to understand this letter as an ancient homily as opposed to a long letter written to some distant friends. The teacher who wrote this message was expounding the Scriptures in order to bring out the best in a community of Hebrew Christians. These believers ought to have been more mature in their understanding of the Old Testament in light of Jesus' ministry; they ought also to have been more active in their love to others while enduring discipline with less whining. It's a sermon with very modern implications.

Things of interest: chapter eleven focuses primarily on characters from the book of Genesis as examples of "faith". A good exercise, if you want to better understand faith, is to read chapter eleven, read the story of the character in Genesis, and then come back to the sermon in chapter eleven and ponder the meaning of the message. You can't understand the message of the NT if you don't understand the message of the OT.

Chapter twelve encourages Christians who know nothing of persecution to not whine when life gets very difficult. If you make foolish decisions, God will discipline (instruct, correct) you so that you grow up and stop making stupid choices. Thank God he helps you learn from your past (assuming you are willing to let him walk with you...though you still have to walk through the hard times you have created for yourself...otherwise you won't really learn anything).

Chapter thirteen is all about loving other people. The trademark of a Jesus-follower is their love for other people. Who do you love that is not part of your family? That is not part of your church? That is not like you? That does not like you? Love people like God loves you as demonstrated through the life and teachings of Jesus. This is a great reason for why one should read their Bible and work hard at seeking to understand it and live by it. God knows your world needs it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thanksgiving Day History

If you are interested in refreshing your memory on the origins of Thanksgiving Day, copy and paste the link below into your browser and enjoy the article.

It has info on U.S. and Canadien traditions, with lots of helpful links to other sites.

What they teach you in grade school is the basics of the historical event, now that you are adult, you may want to read up on the details of it. Who wants to celebrate a holiday they don't really understand?


What to do with all those regulations in Leviticus?

Having read through Leviticus, you'll notice the phrase "clean/unclean" alot. You'll also notice that lots of words are spent describing bodily cleanliness (discharges, rashes, skin diseases), mold issues, animal issues, sexual issues, sacrificial issues. God wants his people to live as a "clean" nation.

This has a ceremonial/religious element to it, as well as a sanitary/social element. Since they are a new nation, God is carving out for them new standards for how they will conduct themselves - thus everything has to be spelled out in detail (lucky you who gets to read it!). God is contrasting his new commands for this new nation against the ancient practices of the Egyptians that they left behind, and the established ways of the Canaanites they are about to encounter in the Promised Land.

So God uses the concept of clean and unclean, an idea that touches on the inside of their body and the outside. Think about how practical it is to have regulations for contagious skin diseases amongst a nomadic people living in cramped quarters with no efficient sewer systems or bathing facilities. If God doesn't want an epidemic to break out as they travel through the wilderness (and for when they set up their new nation), he needs hygiene rules. Same issue for the mold: mold can be very annoying and debilitating if left unchecked. And in regard to sexual practices, God wants to prevent the abuse of women (which was common in the ancient days), he wants to prevent sexually-spread diseases, and he wants to establish ground rules for how husbands and wives ought to relate sexually to each other. This is all in contrast to the surrounding nations and their habits.

God wants us to be healthy, happy and holy according to his perspective. All of the details listed in Leviticus don't apply to us - we're not ancient Israelites. But the theme applies to us: how we approach God is important. How we conduct ourselves in the name and sight of God is important. If we claim to be his "children", if we have become "citizens" of his kingdom, then we ought to conduct ourselves according to his expectations. God gives us regulations on how to live in His Creation so that we will be healthy, happy and holy. How that gets applied today takes the same disciplined, rigorous work that it did over three-thousand years ago.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Scriptures - Helpful for Life

How's the Scripture reading going?

Some of you have worked real hard to stay up on the reading each week. Way to go!

Some of you tried, but got behind, stayed too busy, and just haven't been able to get into a weekly rhythm. Maybe you can give it a start again in January.

Some of you decided not to join us in reading through the Scriptures in a year. It's a free country!

This whole spiritual exercise (reading the Scriptures on purpose, and purposefully making time to do so takes discipline, hence Scripture reading is referred to as a Spiritual Discipline) brings to the forefront this question: is reading the Scriptures helpful for life?

There are many resources available to get help for life. If you don't think reading the Scriptures is helpful, or it hasn't proved helpful in the past, or you don't feel like you need that kind of help right now, then the incentive to read it diminishes greatly.

Of course reading the Scriptures can be confusing. It is a series of ancient writings, they are not always easy to understand - harder yet to know how to apply it to our life.

Yet the question remains: what role should Scripture reading play in the life of a regular Christian? How well should a normal Christian know their Bible?

To the degree that you want to know how to act rightly towards the people in your life, how to act wisely towards the people in your life, how to do good and please God, then reading the Scriptures will provide answers.

If you're not really that interested right now, it's not like God is mad at you. Maybe in twenty years you'll be real interested in getting some answers from the Scriptures. God will be ready for you then, just as much as he is ready now.

Of course the murkier you are on what God considers right, wise and good, the more likely you are to muddy up your relationships and make stupid, foolish decisions. But then you'd probably make mistakes anyways...everybody does. Sometimes reading the Scriptures helps you avoid making foolish mistakes, and alot of times they help you learn from your mistakes.

That's my experience.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Funny Moment...

On Thursday Traci Slager stopped by the office. She and nine-month old Nathanael were back in town to visit friends. It was good to see them both. We were catching up on life, standing in the doorway to my office, me holding Nathanael (marvelling at how much he has grown up), when Patti came up to us. The phone had just rung, and now she had a question for me: someone wanted to know if we had any tumblingmats?

I had no idea, so I instinctively looked at Traci. Maybe she saw it coming, but she was ready for me: "What are you looking at me for? I don't work here anymore?" We all was true, but some habits die hard. It just goes to show how much we miss the Slagers. For so long, anything related to youthy stuff, I automatically just turned to Traci. And of course Traci would help me out. And standing there in the doorway, after her mild rebuff, she began brainstorming on whether we had any tumbling mats. We decided we didn't, and never had.

Tara and I had a good chuckle with that story, and the three of us smiled about it again the next night when Traci and Nathanael stopped by our house for Tara's scrapbooking open house. Which led to some fun moments.

Tara's party started at 5pm. She needed donut holes (or as my nephew Josh calls them: donut balls!). Me and the three kids were on a mission: go to Scotts and get a bucket of donut holes (my secret mission: stall for as long as possible to keep the kids out of the house). So we came home with flowers for Mom, donut balls for the party, milk and cereal, sausage links for our pancake breakfast in the morning, some cleaning supplies, and other goodies. All in all, a successful (secret) mission.

We left an empty house and came home to a packed party. And Traci was there with Nathanael. After quickly unloading our groceries, I took all four kids upstairs. Traci was brave, leaving Nathanael in Levi and Isaac's hands, but she knew I'd be around. How trusting. Nathanael is very strong - he can pull himself up, he can crawl over Levi, and wrestle toys away from Isaac. Emma tried entertaining him by diving into a pile of blankets, but to no avail. He wanted to hang out with the guys.

I thought my guys were still "babies". Not anymore. They dwarfed Nathanael. Nothing against the little guy, but it dawned on me that Levi and Isaac are "big boys" now. And they did really good with Nathanael. They played with him, shared toys with him, and even let him eat his own food without stealing it. Impressive.

I was curious to see how my three kids would do with me holding and playing with Nathanael. I noticed that Levi and Isaac became very interested in me when I was holding Nathanael. Emma seemed okay with it, but my guys kept a close eye on Nathanael whenever he was in my lap. I suppose Traci told them to keep an eye on me. Holding Nathanael reminded me that yes, I'm ready for another Baby Hallman. One more'll be fun.

So, thanks Traci from bringing over Nathanael!

Enjoying The Letter to the Hebrews...

This isn't the easiest letter to read. Why? It centers around the significance and detailed work of Levitical priests. One of the points of this letter is to help the Hebrew people see that Jesus is a superior high priest compared to the Levites. Because of the reverence and devotion given to the Levitical high priest, this author is arguing that now it can be given to Jesus.

In the Scriptures for this week, the author is using the high priest Melchizedek (read about him in Genesis 14 - neat story) to bolster his argument. Basically, if the OT shows that there already exists a superior high priest in Melchizedek over the Levites, then it is possible for God to send a new high priest superior to Melchizedek. It's a sly argument.

It's important to note that the Hebrew community to which this letter is being written is very devoted to their God. They likely follow the Torah devoutly. But they are struggling with what to do with Jesus. How does he fit into God's current (at that time) revelation? The author does a masterful job of tying OT elements together, especially the poem from Jeremiah 31 - about the new covenant, Jesus is the new high priest for the new covenant God plans to establish.

The more you understand the Book of Leviticus, the more you'll appreciate the argument being made in this book. It just takes time, and the deeper you dig, the more treasures you discover.

Jesus came to save the world, but he started with the Hebrews. He came as a Hebrew to the Hebrews. The first converts were Hebrews. When Paul (a fiercly devout and brilliant Hebrew) went to the far reaches of the Roman Empire with the Gospel, most of his converts were Hebrews, along with another special group of people (which is where we fit in): God-fearers.

There were many, many Gentile men and women around the Empire that had abandoned their local or national religions in despair, and had sought to know the God of the Heberw people. Because they were Gentiles, they could not become Hebrews - this limited their involvement in the Temple rituals and other religious practices. But there was a special place for Gentiles who wanted to worship the Heberew God. So in synagogues (teaching facilities for Hebrews established in every city) where Paul would teach about the Hebrew Rabbi Jesus, many, many, many God-fearers believed and were saved. If you've read through Acts, you'll see that after awhile, more God-fearers were believing in Jesus then Hebrews.

One implication of this history lesson (and brief overview of the Letter to the Hebrews): understanding the original covenant that God cut with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David is vital to your vibrant understanding of the new covenant that God cuts with us through Jesus. The less you understand about the OT, the less you understand about the Gospels and the NT.

Can you still be saved with a minimal understanding of the OT and NT: sure, it happens all the time. But who wants to go through life with minimal understanding of what we consider the source of life and our greatest delight?

God says in the Psalms: delight in me and I will give you the desires of your heart. Jesus says in the Gospels: obey my commands (to love one another) and I will make your joy complete.

I'm in; how about you?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Why Anchor - Part 2

All good churches have worked hard to discover how they best do discipleship and evangelism. I feel like we're still working to figure that out.

Discipleship is the art of helping men and women keep walking as disciples of Jesus - staying "disciply" keep the traits, habits, thoughts, attitudes of disciples.

Evangelism is the art of helping men and women begin walking with Jesus as disciples. Being a disciple of Jesus is a way of life, and evangelism is the work of helping people to exit whatever path they are travelling and journey with Jesus.

Unfortunately many people oversell Christianity. They overpromise the Christian experience, and then underdeliver. It's a classic marketing ploy. We ought to shun it. We are so passively eager for people of the world to join Jesus. But your own eager discipleship with Jesus is the crux, the center, the catalyst for anyone wanting to travel with you.

Discipleship and Evangelism in a Church is not primarily about established programs, small groups, Bible Studies or worship attendance. Discipleship and Evangelism is your way of life the other six days you're not at Anchor. Everything you say is either helpful evangelism or hindrance evangelism. Everything you do is either receptive discipleship or rebellious discipleship.

The primary good of programs is when eager people feel like they might be greatly helped by one another in whatever phase of discipleship/evangelism they are presently journeying through. Programs aren't very good at moving rebellious, passive disciples into eager obedience. Programs just become a mask, a way for them to pose. Yet sometimes God uses even programs to conform a way of life.

So who's up for the hard work of discipleship and evangelism?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mark's Gospel - Honor Your Folks...

Mark presents to us a fast moving Jesus, one who is always in action: healing, teaching, eating, traveling, stuff like that. It's important to remember that Jesus is portrayed as a rabbi, which is a Jewish instructor of the Torah. A rabbi would pick about twelve men, who would then live with him, travel with him, learn from him the meaning of the Torah. The exepectation for these disciples would be that they then might become a rabbi, able to teach the Torah, and live by the Torah. They gained recognition and respect for their ability to both live by the Torah and explain the Torah. This is what we see Jesus doing as a rabbi, and often he is correcting the powerful Pharisees, who prided themselves on being able to live by and explain the Torah.

In chapter seven, Mark retells a story of Jesus the rabbi confronting the picky Pharisees; actually Jesus doesn't start it, but he knows how to finish it! They pick on him and his disciples for not living ceremonially clean (a common expectation for rabbis and rabbi disciples). Jesus cuts right to the heart: why complain about dirty hands when you dishonor your folks.

Jesus points out their duplicity: in an effort to not spend their resources on their aging parents, and in an effort to appear pious by spending extra amounts of money on almsgiving and proselytizing, they neglected their parents in their great time of need. What did it mean to "honor your father and mother"? It meant to care for them as they age and grow increasingly dependent. It means to care for them at your own expense. Even if this means you can't devote as much "money" or resources to God as you would like. They were supposed to set aside money for God and their parents. Instead they ditched their folks and "devoted" their money to God, which ended up dishonoring them and God.

Should a missionary go overseas if his parents need him to stay in town to drive them to their doctor appointments?

Should a pastor turn down an attractive ministry position if taking it meant leaving his parents alone and isolated?

Should a Christian businessman take the promotion if it means moving far enough away such that his parents are left feeling helpless when it comes to handling their medical and insurance bills?

Should a Christian family move away from their aging and dependent parents because of personal dreams and ambitions?

What does Jesus mean by "honoring your father and mother" in our day?

The Book to the Hebrews

The NT book Hebrews accompanies our OT reading of Leviticus because of their overlap in details about the role of the high priest, the role of sacrifice, the means of atonement and salvation. The book of Hebrews can be a little hard to grasp mostly because it relies so much on the Torah. This book is written by a Hebrew to the Hebrew people, so the letter makes perfect sense to people with a Hebrew background, history, culture and religion. If you are not an ancient Hebrew, this book will take some work to understand. And yet there are glimpses of insight. Here are some famous verses from this book, all Scripture is quoted from the TNIV:

1:3 "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven."

I hope that as you read this verse you had flashbacks of Exodus and Leviticus: God said to not make any idols that represent him, God used words to create the world, sin was purged by sacrifice of a perfect lamb, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people - and then walk out.

Another famous verse: 2:14-15 "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."

Does this bring back memories of Genesis (flesh and blood) (curse of death) (power of the devil/serpent) (slavery to fear)?

Two more verses: 4:12 "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-eged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

It is the OT that is being talked about here, although it also applies to the NT. But this author is teaching us about the power of the Torah, the Psalms (& Poetry books), the Prophets and the History books of the OT. There not just nice stories, ancient poetry, obscure laws. This is the stuff God uses to make all things new...especially in you. Don't take the Scriptures lightly, especially the OT.

Last verse: 4:15 "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet he did not sin."

Jesus was very, very, very, very, human. His temptations were very, very, very real, and his effort to overcome them was very, very, very difficult. Our greatest insight into how he overcome temptation (having fasted for over a month - and being tempted with bread...) was by reading, knowing and applying Scripture to his life. God's word as a sword helped him fend off the attacking temptation.

The less you know and apply God's word, the less hope you have for fighting off temptations that will wreck your life. Most shipwrecked lives (ie Haggard) don't happen in one night, but through long neglect of the soul and its Maker.

Be encouraged by the letter to the Hebrews.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thanks Babysitters!

This is what happens when Shirley and Faye have too much fun with the guys.

Oh No! It's Leviticus...

This is the book most people dread reading when they commit to go through the Scriptures. It starts off with descriptions of various offerings and then goes into priestly garments...not inspiring stuff. Unless you know some of the background.

The book of Leviticus is the book of the Levites. The priests were to come from the tribe of Levi, specifically from the family line of Aaron, Moses brother. The book of the Levites then prescribes all the details of their religious duties.

Why do we have this book in the Bible? Call it religious transparency. It is a detailed glimpse into the intracies of how an ancient people were to live out their religion. Religion was an all encompassing way of life, so the offerings are varied, covering different aspects of this complicated way of life.

The book of Leviticus and of Hebrews is intentionally paired together. In the book of Hebrews Jesus is presented as the Great Priest, greater then those of the Levites. In reading about the details of atonement, sin, sacrifices and blood in Leviticus, we get more background to why and what Jesus did in his life and ministry before, during and following the cross. Hebrews helps us better understand Jesus from a Levitical point of view.

It is not easy reading, but keep this in mind: Leviticus gives us background to the sacrificial and priestly part of Jesus. Even if you don't understand it all, keep the big picture in mind.

And don't worry, you'll be done with Leviticus in two weeks!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why Anchor?

We've been asking the question around here: "What's Next for Anchor?" In seeking an answer, I've continually gone back to our written statement about our purpose. It says that we are about encouraging more people to follow Jesus. The supporting statement is that we will equip those Jesus followers to build up one another and reach out to seekers.

This is a primarily relational statement. It means that the highest value we hold is a relationship with Jesus. Anchor is successful when people follow Jesus. How do I know if someone is following Jesus? The only sure way of knowing is to have a relationship with that Jesus-follower. Most other definitions of "knowing" end up leading to some form of legalism.

It's hard to imagine an individual who follows Jesus that is not also helping other Jesus-followers stay true, as well as come alongside seekers and help them find truth. Jesus-followers, almost by definition, help other Jesus-followers and Jesus-seekers. This ought to have a very practical element to it.

It comes about mostly by conversation, conversations about how we live in light of what Jesus teaches. And the conversations can only occur at the pace of one's soul. There's no point in pressuring somebody to conform to a way of living that they are not ready to accept. But pressuring and encouraging are not the same.

The first two definitions Paul gives for love is: patience and kindness. This applies to our conversations, our attitudes, our own conforming and the conforming of others. Encouraging others to follow Jesus is the work of a lifetime. It's hard work, but it's the hard that makes it good.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Surprised by Tara

My wife is very thoughtful, creative, and good with keeping secrets. It's almost too easy for her to surprise me. On Sunday she surprised me - she was supposed to end my sermon with a Deanna Carter song, "Because You Loved Me"; instead she sang "All of Me", a Stryper song she sang to me on our wedding day. This memorable song was then also accompanied by a funny and meaningful slideshow of our life together. My sermon was titled: Remember What You Used to Do. The text was from Song of Songs, and it was geared for couples that have kind of gotten away from doing those things that brought them together and enjoy each other. Tara, in cahoots with the music team, did something really special. Thanks team. Thanks Tara.

She also surprised me with some creative art work designed by our children. She framed their personal interpretations of a rainbow, plus a picture of all three of them holding up a sign that says: We Love Daddy. It is a picture-perfect gift. The additional bonus gift was the series of digital pictures that Tara took in attempt to get one usable picture to frame. I've enclosed the bonus pictures for you to enjoy as well.

Emma, Levi, Isaac and Baby Hallman are gleeful reminders of what's at stake - delighting in my wife, enjoying the wife of my youth brings glory to God and joy to our home. Remember, Remember, Remember to do the little things that make life fun at home.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day & WWI

Today is Veterans Day. I learned today that it was inaugurated in remembrance of World War I.

I don't know much about WWI, not as much as WWII. Last week I was eager to watch the movie "Flyboys" as it had to do with American airpilots fighting for the French against the Germans in WWI. Since not much is made public about this Great War, as it was commonly known, I'd like to do some research on it in years to come.

Here is a link that you can copy and paste into your web browser that will take you to a site with many pictures and information about WWI.

It would be a fitting way to spend your Veterans Day Weekend. The picture above is from that site, and it is from the Battle of St. Mihiel-American Engineers returning from the front (1918).

Peace to the veterans who walked into hell and back out again. Listening to NPR the other night, a man spent six months travelling America interviewing the handful of remaining WWI veterans - all of them over the age of 104, a few were pushing 115.

Peace to all veterans who defended the fatherless and the widow, who punished the wicked and the treacherous ones.

Updated Posts...with Pictures

I've updated three recent posts with pictures.

The first two are in October, you can find them by clicking on the 10.2006 link on the right margin.

Emma's First Haircut

Happy Halloween

I also updated a post in November,

Happy Birthday to Me

Fun with Pumpkins

I finally figured out how to get Tara's digital pictures off of her computer program and into my laptop.

Now I can post some more stuff about the kids...I'd write more if I had the pictures to go along with my stories.

The pumpkin carving was fun, as you can see! Emma is not grossed out by anything. We have a neat book by Liz Curtis Higgs about pumpkin carving that illustrates the effect of salvation. It's a neat story, and we've read it many, many, many, many times. So Emma knew what to do - and she dug right in and pulled out the top, the seeds and the pulp!

The guys had a great time digging out the pulp and seeds. They would end up flipping seeds and pulp all over the table and started out accidentaly, but then they figured out what they were doing and soon we had seeds everywhere.

Tara was the chief carver - they were her Cutco knives, so I guess the one with the knife in the hand gets to decide who does the carving! Emma was the chief designer and the guys watched in fascination. For about five seconds. Then they were back to flipping pumpkin seeds.

When we weren't looking, Levi kept trying to eat the pulp and seeds. We'd obviously make him spit them out. Which he thought was funny.

Emma got the biggest pumpkin, since she's the boss. Except it barely fit on her lap. The guys didn't want to hold their pumpkins in their laps, they wanted to throw them down the stairs. We had to comprimise. Tara did a fine job carving and the kids loved lighting up the vegetable art.

What About Prayer...

Why do you pray?

What is prayer supposed to be for?

What are the reasons we are supposed to pray? Are their best and better reasons then others?

What is the number one reason we should pray?

If I were cynical, or talking with a cynic, I might say/hear that prayer was just a mental and spiritual exercise. Prayer is just words that come from my head, out my mouth and they then bounce right off the wall back at me.

According to your experience, why is prayer something totally different then that description above?

Friday, November 10, 2006

The End of Exodus

This week we finished reading through the book of Exodus - and it comes to an end with a dull roar. Reading seemingly arcane descriptions of furniture, clothing, structures and jewelery don't do much for me. I'm not much of a detail guy, and I'm not good with making stuff by hand - so it's hard for me to appreciate all the detail contained in the last 15 chapters of this book. How about for you? Maybe if the Bible provided pictures of this stuff, we'd better appreciate is so hard using my imagination.

Okay, here are some pictures to help those of you like me who need to see some pictures to make sense of this stuff...

A artists rendering of the Tabernacle:

A picture of Mount Sinai, part of the mountain range...

An artists rendering of a priest in his sacred attire:

An artists recreation of the seven-branched lampstand:

A beautiful re-creation of the Ark of the Covenant (not the one borrowed in the Indiana Jones movie!):

A picture of the Torah in scroll form:

Why did all these details get preserved in the Torah? Several reasons: the items to be created are sacred, thus the descriptions and instructions for their creation are sacred and to be preserved; another being that God as Creator pays great attention to detail - we get more details about the creation of the Tabernacle and its items then we do about the creation of the universe...hmmm...maybe there is something to be gleaned from that observation.

Whatever we do, make, say about, for, to God is sacred. God - Yahweh - as reavealed to the Hebrew people through Moses was in the beginning phases of his nation-building work. Nation-building is not easy, and God, Yahweh is his Hebrew name, needed to establish ground rules for how the people would relate to him, to Moses, to each other, and to the nations. 613 laws were given to the people, from which they are to use logic and mercy to judge and rule.

Reading through the second half of Exodus wasn't the most exhilirating experience, but insightful once one gets enough perspective. Which is how most of life works anyway.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Good of Affliction

Psalm 119:71 (TNIV) "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees."

If you are going through a hard time, this verse and song might give you some hope.

If you are helping someone go through a hard time, read this psalm - but not to the one you are helping, read it for yourself.

Don't tell people who are going through hard times that God has a reason for their hardships. People have to figure that out for themselves if that truth is actually going to make a difference in their life.

It is probable that some of the hardships you are facing come directly from the hand of God. And it is likely that he has afflicted you with something so that you might no longer go astray, and obey his instructions.

But you, like the songwriter of Scripture, have to figure that out on your own.

The Redemption of America

Psalm 25 ends with this interesting line: "Redeem Israel, O God, from all their troubles!"

Surely many American Christians prayed something like that in the days surrounding the mid-term elections: "Redeem America, O God, from all their troubles!"

If only we could get the right men and women elected into key executive, judicial and legislative offices, we could turn this nation around. We could return America to what it used to be, a great beacon of hope and Christian light to the world.

Or not.

What I find most interesting about this Psalm is that it begins with a very personal note: "In you (not elected officials), LORD my God I (a monarchial King with absolute power) put my trust." He goes on to pen these words: "Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long."

I don't suppose God has any problem hearing our prayers about rescuing America from its sinful ways, as long as we are also partnering our prayers with plenty of listening and learning time. God can only show me my way and teach me my path if I stop long enough to listen, and go slow enough to implement it.

If you want your country to become something else, then do your part by walking with God; and by helping your friends and family walk with God. And then let God use you to answer the prayers of the oppressed and victims of injustice. For those who are being put to shame, beg God to let you be the one he uses to defend them against "those who are treacherous without cause". Maybe you'll then get involved in politics, or economics, or construction, or agriculture, or theology, or the arts for noble reasons.

Christianity's biggest fault in America is our disconnection between loving a real God with real humans. We focus too much on an idealized God and faceless humanity. Our love for God is revealed in our love for the humans around us, in our home, in our work, in our county, in our world. To the degree that you do or don't give love (look to 1Corinthians 13 to unpack that definition) to humans, so to God. We focus on great worship of God, but then instead of turning around and helping the poor and oppressed, we commit our ways to greater financial security and prosperity.

"My eyes are ever on the LORD (really?),
for only he will release my feet from the snare (who me? decieved? no way, I'm so much different then Adam and Eve...)."

So we pray with David, humbly and hope-fully: "Turn to me and be gracious to me...relieve the troubles of my heart...and take away all my sins...guard my life and rescue me...redeem [all my fellow citizens]...from all their troubles."

Psalm 22

This is the famous song that Jesus mouthed while dying on the cross.

He was barely able to utter the first line of the poem, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The Gospel writers were able to distinguish these words from the violent gasps coming from Jesus as his chest heaved up and down on the torturous wooden beams. It would seem that Jesus was not just quoting lines for future gospel books, but rather he was reciting Scripture as a means to endure the betrayal, the abandonement, the cruelty, the embarassment, the grief, the burden of sin.

It seems to me that the straggle of disciples that heard Jesus utter this inital line of a psalm then watched Jesus mouth the next 31 lines. The daringly hopeful lyrics end with a triumphal: "He has done it!" which could easily be yelled out as "It is finished!".

The OT provides much of the rich background to Jesus' mission, identity and self-understanding. It also gives us potent insight into Jesus' relationship with his Father up in Heaven, if you take the time to reflect upon the psalmic phrases.

Read through Psalm 22 again, slowly, and picture Jesus on the cross, body broken and bleeding, pierced and impaled. With a soul and mind that is sharp yet sad, he mutters these words - in the spirit of defiance against evil, in the spirit of loyal love to his Father, and in the spirit of unyielding hope for the people he came to rescue and restore unto righteousness.

While we were yet uninterested in God, he was hoping and working so that we might someday "experience and proclaim his right way of living in a perpetually wronged world".

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Locking Arms with Local Churches

Today I met with three pastors from the neighborhood of Anchor. The four of us met at Trinity UMC on Putnam Avenue. We toured his labyrinthic facility - marked by beauty, ministry and potential. Our agenda was to plan out a series of meetings beween our churches, plus one more. We hope to meet once a week for five weeks during the Lenten Season, rotating through the different churches: Anchor UBC, North Highlands Church of Christ, Grace Presbyterian, Trinity UMC and First Mennonite. The hoped for goal is that our five congregations will enjoy meeting each other, learning more about our distinctive backgrounds, and discover our common mission for our local neighborhood. Together we can do more than on our own.

For a long time I've wanted to meet my neighboring pastors, but I never made a point to do it. Last year I took the time to make a contact with one pastor, and then another and soon we had planned out a joint VBS program with four churches in July. That was such a positive experience for all that now we're hoping and praying for something more. A friend of mine who pastors in Michigan has a heart for working with area ministers to serve the neighborhood. When he began this kind of work while pastoring in OH, I was surprised that this was an interest of his. But he felt like it was important, and that God was directing him to do it. I kind of feel the same way, and that God is nudging me in that direction as well.

It was also neat to meet with other pastors who have very different backgrounds - personally, denominationally, theologically, and geographically. Barb from Grace is a former California businesswoman, Steve from Trinity is a former Purdue campus minister fluent in Porteguese, Peter from First Mennonite is a Canadien trained pastor. There is way more to their stories, and I look forward to hearing them, and becoming a better pastor because of them.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Gospel of Mark and The Mission of Jesus

Mark opens his gospel about Jesus with an introduction of John the Baptist and a portion of Isaiah 40. When an NT author uses a text from the OT, the purpose is not to merely quote the few verses recorded, but rather to refer to the context out of which that OT verse comes.

What kind of Jesus is Mark going to introduce to us?

Isaiah the prophet wrote these words to console the people of Judah and Israel following their brutal defeat and painful exile. After their punishment by God, they were offered these words of restoration.
Jesus has come to offer Judah and Israel reconciliation to God their Creator and King.

Read this poem and gain a richer understanding of Jesus - and then take this view with you as you read through Mark.

(I know this written artwork is lengthy - odds are you need to slow down and savor and soak in these words of beauty, your soul likely needs it)

(My poet-friend Jeremie Solak used that argument one time...)

Isaiah 40 (TNIV - copy and pasted from

1 Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
 and proclaim to her 
 that her hard service has been completed, 
 that her sin has been paid for, 
 that she has received from the LORD's hand 
 double for all her sins.

3 A voice of one calling: 
 "In the wilderness prepare 
 the way for the LORD; 
 make straight in the desert 
 a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up, 
 every mountain and hill made low; 
 the rough ground shall become level, 
 the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, 
 and all people will see it together. 
 For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

6 A voice says, "Cry out." 
 And I said, "What shall I cry?" 
 "All people are like grass, 
 and all human faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
 because the breath of the LORD blows on them. 
 Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, 
 but the word of our God endures forever."

9 You who bring good news to Zion, 
 go up on a high mountain. 
 You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
 lift up your voice with a shout, 
 lift it up, do not be afraid; 
 say to the towns of Judah, 
 "Here is your God!"

10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, 
 and his arm rules for him. 
 See, his reward is with him, 
 and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: 
 He gathers the lambs in his arms 
 and carries them close to his heart; 
 he gently leads those that have young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, 
 or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? 
 Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, 
 or weighed the mountains on the scales 
 and the hills in a balance?
13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the LORD, 
 or instruct the LORD as his counselor?
14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, 
 and who taught him the right way? 
 Who was it that taught him knowledge, 
 or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; 
 they are regarded as dust on the scales; 
 he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, 
 nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing; 
 they are regarded by him as worthless 
 and less than nothing.

18 With whom, then, will you compare God? 
 To what image will you liken him?
19 As for an idol, a metal worker casts it, 
 and a goldsmith overlays it with gold 
 and fashions silver chains for it.
20 People too poor to present such an offering 
 select wood that will not rot. 
 They look for a skilled worker 
 to set up an idol that will not topple.

21 Do you not know? 
 Have you not heard? 
 Has it not been told you from the beginning? 
 Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, 
 and its people are like grasshoppers. 
 He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, 
 and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught 
 and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted, 
 no sooner are they sown, 
 no sooner do they take root in the ground, 
 than he blows on them and they wither, 
 and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 "To whom will you compare me? 
 Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: 
 Who created all these? 
 He who brings out the starry host one by one, 
 and calls them each by name. 
 Because of his great power and mighty strength, 
 not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob? 
 Why do you say, Israel, 
 "My way is hidden from the LORD; 
 my cause is disregarded by my God"?

28 Do you not know? 
 Have you not heard? 
 The LORD is the everlasting God, 
 the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
 He will not grow tired or weary, 
 and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary 
 and increases the power of the weak.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary, 
 and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD 
 will renew their strength. 
 They will soar on wings like eagles; 
 they will run and not grow weary, 
 they will walk and not be faint.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Ted Haggard Tragedy

The following quote was sent to me by Tami Solak, a compassionate and thoughtful leader in our church. The quote is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his book Life Together (a book I treasure and highly recommend).

Bonheoffer states,

"He that is alone in his sins is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, not withstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and in their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness.

The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout people, as sinners.

The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from their fellowship.

We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous.

So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.

That fact is that we are sinners."

Ted Haggard's sins found him out. As they do for all people, in this life or the next. What he did was wrong, yet the community of believers that he was part of failed him.

Bonhoeffer makes a very unevangelical point: we are not just saints justified by the atonement of Christ, we are also sinners always in need of forgiveness. The issue is: when we gather together are we saints unallowed to sin? or are we sinners gathered together hoping and striving to become saints like Christ?

Pray that Haggard's family is restored, reconciled and redeemed. Pray for his church. And then pray for your pastor. And your church. And then for yourself.

"Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For God's glory and kingdom, and our joy on earth."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Birthday Blunder

Saturday our family went to South Bend for a fancy birthday meal for me and my dad. If anything could have gone wrong, it pretty much did. And it is all my fault. So to my family, once again - sorry!

In late September I ate dinner at the Studebaker Mansion, a beautiful home that houses a five star restaurant. The next day I told my mom about the neat place - we both enjoy history stuff.

Her response, "Oh, the Studebaker Museum, dad would love to go there some time."

My thought: well, the home was kind of like a museum, there were pictures everywhere, history notecards, furniture, display cases...yeah, it kind of was like a museum.

So Tara thought: hey, wouldn't it be fun to have everyone go eat there for the October/November birthdays? Dad could go see all the neat Studebaker stuff and we could all eat at a fancy restaurant.

I think: hey, that would be fun - I'll set everything up. Bad idea...

We pick the weekend. Word is that Notre Dame has a home game that night: should we pick a different night? I call, and no, we can still eat that night, but we should make an early reservation so we can miss the crowds and traffic. So we all agree on lunch. I call - oh, they're not open for lunch, but they open at 4:30pm, and yes, you should come early as the crowds will pour in. Okay...well there will be twelve of us - including four kids, we'll need two highchairs and two booster seats. After I make the reservation I read on the website that parties larger then eight have to be split amongst at least two tables. Hmmm....that could be a problem, but I'm sure we'll be able to pull the tables together or something. I should have known this was not going to be good.

Mum and Dad took Jerm, Maria and Eva in their van, coming from Angola/Avilla; we had S&F and ELI in our van coming from Fort Wayne/Columbia City. We all get to South Bend around 4:20pm. We walk into the restaurant, ooing and ahing at the impressive structure and striking interior. We wait awhile, surprised that the other van is not here yet. I go to call them, to find out where they are at, at which time my mom calls me, asking me where I am at.

"Tim, there is no restaurant here at the Studebaker Museum. Where are you guys?"

"Uh, mom, we're here at the Studebaker Mansion, that's where the restaurant is, what are you doing at a museum? I didn't know there was a Studebaker Museum."

"We thought we were going to see the Museum, that's why what Dad wanted to see."

"Oh...sorry, my fault."

So the other van arrives, we all gather in the lobby, the girls go find the restroom and we wait. The manager is getting acquainted with the twins. Kind of neat.

We go downstairs to our dining area. Sure enough we get seated at two different tables, two huge oval tables that are end to end. Now it's getting awkward - I was the only one aware of this impending situation, and there was no pulling them together. We decide that I'll sit with my dad and mum, Jerm and Maria and Eva at one table, everyone else is at the other one. Except that Eva wants to sit with Emma. That's fine.

But then it's like someone hit a button, and one by one the kids all took turns whining, crying, and fussing. They're not hungry. They don't like the seating arrangements. They want to touch all the other tables. I apologize to my family profusely, to the servers and waiters. Fortunately there are no other patrons in the WHOLE DOWNSTAIRS. (I thought we had to get an early reservation because the restaurant would be packed and the city in gridlock!) Eventually some families do come down, and out of the whole seating area, they are seated right next to our the embarassment gets worse.

We're eating very very delicious food, that is very very expensive; surrounded by tired, fussy, loud kids.

Levi sits on my lap eating ice out of his sippy cup. Then he dumps half the water on his lap. So he cries. Then I give him more water and ice, and he smiles. Then he eats some ice. Then he dumps that on his lap. Then he cries...argh! So then Isaac sits next to me on Papa Ger's lap, and he wants to eat ice out of his sippy cup, except he has milk. That won't he cries! So then I give him my glass of ice water. He is happy...for now.

We finish our meal - the parents silent, except for the occasional comment about the flavor of the food. Glares happen across the table. Kids are acting as if they came from another planet.

The waiter asks if we are ready for our bill - YES!

Mom wants us to get a picture taken in front of a fireplace. I'm thinking maybe we can walk around the other three floors and try to salvage the "museum" part of the evening. NO - lets get out of there as fast as we can.

I slowly walk to the van, my wife is in there with Emma (who is in trouble for the fifth time); I open up my side of the door, look her in the eye and say "Sorry, I am so sorry for botching up this night!" She is kind enough to reply softly and tenderly.

Determined to do something right, I easily persuade everyone to find a normal restaurant to have desert. We find a DQ, we get ice cream, and everyone has a wonderful time.

Fortunately, driving home out of South Bend, we were able to laugh about how awful everything turned out. My mother was gracious and insisted that we all had a wonderful time, we'll just have to be sure to go back when the kids are alot older. Thanks mom.

But then, out of the blue, the twins start fussing on the way home. Nothing we do can get them to be quiet. They cry, they whine, they wimper. Ugh. Finally, five minutes from home we threaten them with the "If you don't be quiet, dad is going to pull over this van and squeeze your knee." I pulled into a parking lot, turned around, spoke sternly to them - and voila, silence the rest of the way home. Why didn't we do that 85 minutes earlier?

So, sorry everyone for the botched birthday party. There's always next time...

The Exodus Regulations

Did you find your mind going numb reading about all the rules, the do's and don'ts that the Israelites were given?

What struck me about it was how practical the laws were.

Interestingly, they follow after Jethro's admonition to Moses for not delegating leadership. Moses was the only judge amongst two million people. Jethro urged Moses to delegate judges to rule over thousands, and hundreds, and tens. Moses did. Now not only Moses but dozens and dozens of other judges were seeking God for the right decision.

I think that the list of rules in Exodus that we read are the most relevant of the decisions Moses and the Judges had already made. They weren't random rules insertd to bore twenty-first century readers, but rather to reveal the the practical judgments that God was issuing to his people through Moses.

So instead of glossing over the rules, read them as a cultural insight into life three and a half thousand hears ago!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yesterday was birthday number thirty-two! It was an all-around great day. It started off with Emma, Levi and Isaac helping me make waffles for my breakfast party. My mom and Emma baked a cake the day prior, so we ate it after the waffles! I've never had to blow out candles that early in the day before, it was fun - cause then we had cake for lunch also!

After our waffle/cake breakfast we danced to U2 songs - the perfect way to celebrate! I have a concert video of their Elevation tour, and I was previewing one of the songs for my sermon on Sunday. The song "Beautiful Day" is special for Emma and I, it's our song! There is a phrase that we always sing, I sing: "It's a beautiful day", and then we sing together, "Don't let it get away". What is especially darling is when she walks outside with me and sings it on her own! So my daughter and two sons danced with me to the video of "Beautiful Day", as well as "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of" and "Elevation".

After the dancing was the gift opening ceremony. I sit on the couch and the kids open my present for me! Tara's gift to me was a total surprise: a picture of the kids each holding a sign that together read "We Love Daddy". It was a framed picture, accompanied by three more framed pictures of a rainbow that each of the kids had made. Very cool. You can see it hanging in my office, it is funny and cute and beautiful.

Good times, good times...

Tara and I went out on a date later that afteroon - my Mummy was gracious enough to come and spend the night at our house with the kids - and my niece Eva. For our date we went to the Carmike Theatre (very impressive!) and enjoyed "Flyboys", a thrilling story of WW1 American pilots flying with the French. We then went to Chappelles for a fine dining experience: I sumpted on Orange Roughy with Mediterranean style veggies - very tasty; Tara enjoyed her Filet Mignon and pasta (we ventured out and tried an appetizer of Goat Cheese Bread - very good with fresh lemon squeezed on it). We then headed for Borders (I bought for myself with gift certificates from last Christmas: a book of speeches that "chaged the world"; U2's "Rattle and Hum", Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits) and then Starbucks (Cafe Mocha) and then Barnes and Noble (looked at baby names: I always suggest Gunther for a boy's name - it is so cool!; wouldn't Arwen be a beautiful girl's name?), and then home late.

It was a great date and birthday. It's weird to think that my life is a third's cool to think that I have two-thirds of my life left: what a wonderful, wonderful world...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Twenty-third Psalm

This is one of the most famous psalms of the Scriptures. Ironically, it is most often read at funerals. Why is that? The poem places the writer as a sheep, the LORD as a shepherd. This is quite a contrast to the sheep/shepherd metaphor that Isaiah uses in Isaiah 53, in describing the Suffering Servant.

Interestingly, in our American context we usually skip over the phrase: "You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies" (The Message). Sheep have natural predators: wolves, bears, lions, thieves, etc. Who are your natural enemies? If you say you don't have any, beware: to be that blind to your enemies leaves you at a disadvantage in getting protection.

Is being busy your enemy? Is being abused your enemy? Is being neglected or ignored your enemy? Is being ridiculed or rejected your enemy? Is being taken advantage of or being misused your enemy? Enemy is such a strong word; yet if you don't call something or someone for what it really is, you are a sheep.

"Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life" (The Message). This is true for those that often live around ugliness and apathy. Women never think they are pretty enough, they often don't feel loved enough. Men often can't recognize beauty when they see it, and in their effort to get love they lose it. Oh that we would stop long enough to let the Shepherd's beauty and love catch up with us...and then we could sit down and relax next to lush meadows...or a sandy beach...or a mountain cabin porch...or the kitchen table.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Exodus Thirteen

Having grown up in the church, I have heard a lot of people talk about salvation as if they know what they are talking about. Odds are they are parroting phrases so as to sound like they know what they are talking about. Most Christians can't articulate very well what they are supposed to believe.

Please don't read this as accusatory: this is my spiritual autobiography. One of the reasons why I study the Bible and go to theology school is so that I can develop a clearer understanding of God's Word. I'll be honest: many times I feel like I don't evangelize because I'm not sure I understand what I say I believe. I absorbed phrases faster then I developed understanding. Anybody else feel like that?

So, when I read this passage of Scripture last week for our assigned reading, light bulbs went off: here is a clearer background explanation of why God took on human flesh and was a firstborn son to Mary and was sacrificed on to redeem us. The whole sacrifice and redemption theme of Christian salvation finds its roots here in the Exodus story.

If you want to understand Christianity, you need to understand the Exodus.

The Message, Exodus 13:11-16
11-13 "When God brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he promised you and your fathers, and turns it over to you, you are to set aside the first birth out of every womb to God. Every first birth from your livestock belongs to God. You can redeem every first birth of a donkey if you want to by substituting a lamb; if you decide not to redeem it, you must break its neck.

13-16 "Redeem every firstborn child among your sons. When the time comes and your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' you tell him, 'God brought us out of Egypt, out of a house of slavery, with a powerful hand. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, God killed every firstborn in Egypt, the firstborn of both humans and animals. That's why I make a sacrifice for every first male birth from the womb to God and redeem every firstborn son.' The observance functions like a sign on your hands or a symbol on the middle of your forehead: God brought us out of Egypt with a powerful hand."

Jesus was a Hebrew, and he came first to the Hebrew people. He was a firstborn son, and he was also referenced as the "lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1). So he is the substituting lamb that God the Father uses to redeem his Firstborn Humanity (us...).

I found this background information fascinating. It better helps me understand why Jesus Christ came, what salvation means, and the implications for what my life is supposed to look like in following Him.